For many families, an allegation of child abuse or neglect may result in a finding without litigation. The agency investigates and determines that an allegation of child abuse or neglect is substantiated. The consequence is that the parent is then listed on the Child Abuse Central Registry maintained by the Department of Children and Families. This allows various agencies to confirm whether or not someone has “a history” of child abuse. And this is a good thing, right?
Perhaps. However, not every act of child abuse or neglect is created equal. Any substantiated finding results in a listing on the registry – from perpetrators of child sexual abuse to the everyday parent who runs into a grocery store, while leaving a young child in the backseat of a car for a few minutes. The registry does not differentiate.
Consequently, agencies that want to bar from employment those who are listed on the registry could very well be excluding people who have engaged in behavior that poses no risk to children whatsoever.
Take for instance, the family that has “history” of domestic violence. For some families, the allegation is that the children witnessed an incident of domestic violence. We know that domestic violence most often occurs in the privacy of the home. Is it likely, then, that a couple who engaged in domestic violence would, when working independent of each other, suddenly expose children who are not their biological children to an act of domestic violence? Hardly.
However, the system treats these parents the same as pedophiles and child murderers. And the consequence to this is questionable at best, from a child protection perspective. No one wants to acknowledge that there are gradations of child abuse – particularly not the social workers involved in that system. To egg knowledge that not all child-abuse is created equal is a tacit admission that some child abuse is, while still not acceptable, is not as unacceptable as other forms of child abuse. So we paint all substantiated parents the same, both by listing them on the registry and by the services that are imposed upon them.
The cost to this “one size fits all” approach is substantial. Resources that are invested in repetitive, unnecessary psychological evaluations for each and every family that is embroiled in the system takes away valuable resources that would be allocated to those families that really do require the assistance of the state in order to preserve their families. And, at the end of the day, by the time you get to your fact finding hearing in litigation, the registry is the only outstanding guillotine that requires a matter to be tried to conclusion. It is not uncommon that a family will already have been reunified following the removal prior to the fact finding hearing even taking place. This is due to the great backlog in our court system, as well as the complexities of human lives, which often necessitate interventions during the course of the case as a result of the trauma of the removal that need not have occurred in the first place.
Perhaps, we should reconsider whether child welfare intervention inherently requires the registry to be used. By doing so, we will increase the likelihood of having our resources, as scarce as they are, allocated toward those who are truly indeed, rather than those who are truly targeted by those interested with the inordinate power of our child welfare system.